The image you see above is a “magic roundabout” in Colchester, England. It includes 5 mini-roundabouts embedded in a giant one. Imagine driving that on the left side of the road!
Roundabout. Traffic Circle. Rotary. According to the Harvard Dialect Study, we Americans are pretty divided about what to call a traffic circle, which is my own word of choice, like nearly 40% of the rest of you.
Before we headed to Burlington, Vermont, a few weeks ago, I checked out the same survey's results on what Vermonters would say:
So, Vermonters are in the heart of New England’s Rotary Country.
Disappointingly, we didn’t find a single rotary to drive through during our few visits to Burlington. I had hoped to check out the local usage and the signage. But I did learn that there is at least one traffic circle in the area, in next-door Winooski, Vermont. And an article in the Burlington Free Press managed to include just about every term for traffic circle that they could, as well as a distinct sense that there is no love lost on that particular traffic circle. (The piece was written two years ago, about a then 5-year-old circle):
WINOOSKI — Cathy Simard was steaming Monday morning, parked in her minivan amid car fumes in standstill traffic waiting to get into the downtown Winooski traffic circle.
"I hate this Winooski circle. It's the stupidest thing they ever did," she said. "It's a traffic hazard."…
The Winooski traffic circle is more complicated than most roundabouts, which have fewer streets feeding into them, fewer pedestrians to deal with and lower traffic volumes, according to traffic engineers…
“I’ve never seen a rotary with a stop light. It definitely defeats the purpose of it,” said commuter Will Telford, 33, as he waited Monday morning.
While my search for Vermont rotary signage didn’t work out, I did discover something else very interesting about the language of signs in Burlington. Something, I think, that suggested reams about the sociocultural landscape of the town.